MCCC visit to Dorothy Clive Gardens

Rachy at Dorothy Clive Gardens
Not many of you will be aware that in my distance youth, I was a trainee professional golfer working at the time as the Assistant Professional at Upton Golf Club. My Boss, the resident Professional – always said to me that the pressure of playing in a competition would always put a couple of shots on your score, so I had to practice hard to compensate. Reflecting on my process and some of my images from Mid-Cheshire Camera Club’s recent outing to Dorothy Clive Gardens, the same is true for my photography.

Dorothy Clive Gardens is a fantastic place for anyone wanting to enjoy the wonderful splendour of a beautiful English garden. Living on site were our hosts for the evening - Malcolm and Barbara Lander from Catchlight Pics. With their relationship with DCG, the thirteen or so members were all locked in with the whole place to ourselves. We were graced with a fine evening of golden sunlight. Malcolm and Barbara had scouted the Gardens and had planned a route for us to maximise the beauty of the gardens in the setting sunlight. They arranged our model for the night – Rachel Downes or Rachy as she preferred to be called. Tea and biscuits were planned a little later and a small studio had been set up in case we needed a wet weather program.

This was only the second time that I had the opportunity to photograph a professional model. The first being when Alan Towse visited the club year before last. Strangely, I was a little nervous. As a photographer, I should know what image I want to create from the ingredients in front of me – our young model, great lighting, and a wonderful location, still - I was stood there not knowing how to take the shot. This confusion had started at home when I decided to pack a small studio into my car muttering the words “I better take that – just in case”. At the shoot, I knew things were bad when I actually started shooting without checking any camera settings. My old boss’s words started to echo in my mind. I should know what to do, I have watched hundreds of hours of YouTube videos of portrait photography but the pressure of needing to assess a shot quickly is difficult to do unless you have practiced it. Fortunately, Rachel made it very easy for us all. She took direction from the more knowledgeable members and Malcolm and I took my time to watch them and learn from the likes of Ray Girling who is experienced in studio work and model direction.

Waterfall at Dorothy Clive Gardens
Despite the fab weather, the sun was low in the sky and this did create some interesting shadows. A number of the members were shooting with on-camera flash. I had brought two speed-lights and a remote trigger which enabled me to get the light really quite close the model. Shooting in ETTL mode, 3 stops underexposed, I was able to add a puff of light on Rachel to separate her from the darkening surroundings. Out of all the lenses I brought with me my main success was with my nifty fifty which incidentally is significantly cheaper than all the canon and sigma glass that I was carrying around with me. As we walked around taking in the breath-taking scenery the thing I noticed about this shoot was the speed. We were in each location about 15 – 20 minutes and then we moved on. You had to assess the best composition in the given surroundings, adjust your settings and give Rachel some direction to get the best possible shots - that was the challenge.

The areas where I felt I made some mistakes are listed below. Hopefully, anyone reading this may consider these points and if they help you then that is a good thing.
  1. I failed to plan the shoot, so, therefore, I did not know what I wanted. This also meant I had no idea of my composition and my camera settings were also affected by my lack of planning. In future, I will decide on a number of different poses that I will have to show the model and I will plan how I want to take the images.
  2. No idea how to direct the model. As mentioned above, I will use a storyboard or some images to show the model what I want to create. This was a good idea that Ray G mentioned to me during the break.
  3. Next time I will not take so much kit. I took 75% of my images with a prime 50mm lens. These images are some of my best.
  4. Use of off-camera flash. The use of my speed lights was a good point but I do need to practice using them in this way. Here’s the thing - I had two speed-lights set up and was still using apertures of F2.8 and F3.5 when there was no need because I was adding my own light to the model rather than just relying on the ambient light. I am sure my images would have been sharper at F5.6 – F8.

All in all, this was a really good evening out at a very affordable price. It was great to take part in a practical session with other members – something that we need to do more of. I learned so much and not just from Malcolm and Barbara, but the other members as well.

As for me, well – in the words of my old boss - I need to practice my photography more in order to compensate for the self-pressure for when I next have the opportunity to photograph a model.

For anyone who is interested, you can see my images on my website – Paul Wilcock Photography Enter the following code DCG23.05.18 into the client access field on my home page, and it will take you directly to a private album. There you will find a couple of the images that I have post processed and a video compilation to music of the evening.

For more information about the Mid-Cheshire Camera Club visit our website at or come along to a meeting on Wednesday evening at 7.45 for 8pm (from September to May) at the Dingle Recreation Centre, Winsford.

Paul Wilcock
Press & Publicity Officer